In The Stu­dio With: St­effi

Globe-trot­ting DJ, la­bel owner and pur­veyor of pris­tine un­der­ground club sounds, St­effi, un­veils ex­quis­ite new al­bum, World Of The Wak­ing State. Hamish Mack­in­tosh suf­fers some se­ri­ous gear envy at her Ber­lin mu­sic­mak­ing HQ

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De­camp­ing from her na­tive Hol­land to Ber­lin in 2007 proved the per­fect ac­cel­er­ant for St­effi’s fledg­ling ca­reer. Signed up by leg­endary Ber­lin techno la­bel Ostgut Ton, St­effi’s star rose rapidly with a res­i­dency at the Panorama Bar (in Ber­lin’s equally leg­endary Berghain night­club who op­er­ate the Ostgut Ton im­print). St­effi’s de­but al­bum, Yours And Mine, show­cased her bur­geon­ing pro­duc­tion skills and single, Yours (feat Vir­ginia), filled count­less dance­floors with its hyp­notic brand of techno. There fol­lowed a slew of col­lab­o­ra­tions and remixes ce­ment­ing a unique place within the global dance com­mu­nity for St­effi. 2012’s EP

Schraper fur­ther at­tested to St­effi’s love of techno along with her ever-in­creas­ing pro­duc­tion tal­ents and ear for a killer bassline.

Never one to rest on her lau­rels, St­effi has trav­elled the world as an in-de­mand DJ (with var­i­ous mix CDs for Panorama Bar, Fab­ric and oth­ers), as well as launch­ing and man­ag­ing four of her own la­bels, Klak­son (with Dex­ter), Dolly, Dolly Deluxe and Dolly Dubs. Pre­sum­ably some­where in amongst all this fre­netic ac­tiv­ity she even finds time to sleep oc­ca­sion­ally!

World of the Wak­ing State is St­effi’s third solo artist al­bum and is her finest and most thought­ful of­fer­ing to date. Re­veal­ing as it does a more con­tem­pla­tive and ex­per­i­men­tal side to St­effi, tracks such as The Mean­ing Of Mem­ory, Kokkie and the sub­lime al­bum closer, Cease To Ex­ist, per­fectly il­lus­trate that you can de­vi­ate from 4/4 with an 808 and still make ex­cel­lent dance mu­sic.

FM caught up with the multi-tal­ented St­effi in her… how shall we put this… well, her in­cred­i­ble Ber­lin home stu­dio, which houses her col­lec­tion of some of the most de­sir­able hard­ware synths you might ever want to make squelches and bleeps with. All of which have been put to ex­cel­lent use on World Of The Wak­ing State. So, with­out fur­ther ado, FM speak to St­effi about gear, beats, bleeps and work­flow.

FM: World of the Wak­ing State has a real sense of you grow­ing as an artist. Is that fair to say?

St­effi: “Ab­so­lutely. For me, it feels like the best stuff I’ve done so far but I guess ev­ery time you de­liver a new al­bum that feels like an achieve­ment! I’m this far now in my ca­reer that I just wanted to re­ally do some­thing with­out hav­ing a con­cept in mind and just go with the flow and ex­plore the pos­si­bil­i­ties if I re­ally don’t put any lim­i­ta­tions on my­self. That was quite a free fall into the deep for me, which is maybe why it feels like my big­gest achieve­ment so far. It came out so nat­u­rally and I was sur­prised by the out­come too.”

How can you man­age to put lim­i­ta­tions on your­self with such an in­cred­i­ble stu­dio set-up?

“I think if you’re com­ing up with a plan like ‘I want to come up with some­thing that fits my record bag as a DJ’ then that’s al­ready a lim­i­ta­tion, re­ally. You’re just sketch­ing within a con­cept… there are lines drawn like ‘let’s do an 135bpm elec­tro-jam or 130bpm techno-jam”. Those lines are set but it doesn’t mean that you’re re­stricted in what you want to use in the stu­dio but you al­ready have an im­age of things you’re go­ing to use. The bpm needs to be between this or that, is it gonna be straight-beat or an elec­tro-beat, which re­quires a cer­tain way of us­ing the 808 and a way of pro­gram­ming that’s con­nected to that genre. With this al­bum I didn’t give a fuck if the bass kick sits on the 3 or the 8, I just wanted to ex­plore more deeply what was pos­si­ble with what I’ve got in the stu­dio. I guess be­cause I didn’t re­ally re­strict tem­pos or make it a four-to-the­floor al­bum it does widen the hori­zons.”

What was your main ma­chine for beat-mak­ing with the new al­bum?

“I ac­tu­ally went through the al­bum the other day to pre­pare some stems for the live show and it re­minded me that many of the kicks are just lay­ered from two or three dif­fer­ent in­stru­ments. For ex­am­ple, there might be some­thing from a Yamaha DX200, like a deep, bassy sound and I’d use it as a kick lay­ered with some­thing from the Pearl Syn­cus­sion and maybe a cou­ple of hits from a mod­u­lated 909 or some­thing. It’s al­ways a case of sev­eral in­stru­ments cre­at­ing one kick drum. Most of it is ac­cents, you know. Maybe a hit on the 1 and a hit on the 9 and ev­ery­thing else gets filled in with low-fre­quency syn­the­siz­ers to cre­ate the same at­mos­phere as a kick drum but com­ing from dif­fer­ent sources it makes it a lit­tle less pre­dictable.”

With an ar­ray of clas­sic 909/808 ma­chines in your set-up, FM can’t pin the sound of your beats down to any spe­cific ma­chine…

“They’re not there, no. I used mainly drum syn­the­siz­ers and drum brains from the ’70s and ’80s like the Syn­cus­sion and the Pearl Drum X. There’s the Ult Sound DS-4, which is an old Ja­panese drum synth and PAiA DIY one. So, I use those to cre­ate the length, pitches, ve­loc­ity and tone, which is what makes the drums so or­ganic, I guess.”

Have all th­ese won­der­ful pieces of rare gear come about from hit­ting the mu­sic shops when you go to a new town?

“I think it’s more just a general in­ter­est in hard­ware and I should state that it re­ally doesn’t mat­ter to me whether it’s ana­logue or dig­i­tal be­cause I’m as much a hard­ware-freak for the dig­i­tal stuff as I am for the ana­logue. It’s an in­ter­est that I’ve built up over the years. Lis­ten­ing to mu­sic, think­ing where the sounds could have come from or just en­joy­ing the aes­thet­ics of the sounds. [ laughs] I just go in­fected with this gear-col­lect­ing virus!

“I started col­lect­ing in about 2000 and I’ve never re­ally felt the urge to sell a lot so I’ve kept most of it. It’s a good in­vest­ment and it’s nice to make a record with it.”

Do you en­vis­age your­self con­stantly evolv­ing and adding to your hard­ware set-up?

“I feel like there’s so much still to learn. With this al­bum, I’m lay­ing out a jam on the desk and hit­ting

It doesn’t mat­ter whether it’s ana­logue or dig­i­tal – I’m as much a hard­ware-freak for the dig­i­tal stuff as I am for the ana­logue

a point where it’s pretty solid and has all the el­e­ments that a song might need; then I’m mul­ti­track­ing and what I do is I take a dry sig­nal and take one or two ef­fects sig­nals and record that separately. That’s a thing I’m do­ing now but god knows I might even go deeper into things next time and maybe pro­gram all the parts on the se­quencer and jam it live… I don’t know. The fur­ther I get into mu­sic pro­duc­tion; the newer stuff de­vel­ops and the more di­verse ways of work­ing I learn. So, it re­ally does feel, af­ter three al­bums, that I’m only just start­ing!”

It’s apparent from your stu­dio lay­out that the mix­ing desk still plays an im­por­tant role in your work­flow…

“Yeah… ab­so­lutely. I guess I just like to get ev­ery­thing laid out be­fore I record so I started with a small desk but over the years I got more gear. When I stepped away from the com­puter and found my love of hard­ware se­quenc­ing, for me that was a way to con­nect all my in­stru­ments. Work­ing with the Cirk­lon (­quen­ I can have over 20 in­stru­ments run­ning at the same time, which is re­ally heavy but, at the same time, it al­lows you to cre­ate a song that you can lay out, apart from the ar­range­ment, in the way you think it should be. The desk has a very im­por­tant role in that be­cause if I had to record each sound separately you kind of lose the mo­ment. It’s all about push­ing the fader, see what it does, put some ef­fect on it then move on. I feel if you’re load­ing ev­ery­thing into a com­puter then, for me, it be­comes static.”

Maybe now is a good time to ask you to talk us around the main gear in your stu­dio rig…

“Of course… The mix­ing desk, an APB Dy­naSon­ics 32-chan­nel, is the base where ev­ery­thing gets plugged in. I work with five rows of patch­bays, which are very im­por­tant to me to be able to con­nect things to­gether and run it through ef­fects and get the un­ex­pected. Ev­ery­thing is plugged into the Cirk­lon hard­ware step se­quencer and I have a CV/gate box that’s able to get all the in­stru­ments go­ing with­out need­ing any con­ver­sion to MIDI. There’s a drum-trig­ger box also at­tached to the Cirk­lon to trig­ger all the old drum brains, which makes them all ac­ces­si­ble through the step se­quencer, which is amaz­ing! The Pearl Drum X, Pearl Syn­cus­sion and the Ult Sound are ba­si­cally where all the drums on the new al­bum are com­ing from. I’ve got the whole Roland line but it’s not so present on this al­bum.”

So, once ev­ery­thing’s run­ning through the desk, is it then go­ing into a com­puter?

“As soon as it’s on the desk I’ll run the mono drum sounds and the basslines through a UAD com­pres­sor/lim­iter/preamp and I have a nice lunch­box chan­nel-strip from an old ’60s desk, which I’ll use par­al­lel with a bit of LA-2A tube­com­pres­sion. There’s the En­soniq DP/4 that’s used for re­verbs and crazy ef­fects. Ev­ery­thing then goes into Logic.”

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